I think it’s probably safe to say that at one point in our lives or careers, we assumed that preschool children were too young and/or not ready to engage in preliteracy activities. As we now know, that is far from true. When I taught a preschool Language Disorders classroom, and then a State-funded grant program for an all day Early Childhood classroom in conjunction with Head Start, it became readily apparent that given the right structure and materials, even children who are delayed or at risk for developing language, can significantly increase the skills they need to become readers as they enter school-age programs.
Early literacy, story book reading, oral narrative and vocabulary development have been my passion for a very long time. Over the years I have created, and continue to create as a matter of fact, literacy units based on quality children’s storybooks. In doing so, one of the strategies that I have used to expand comprehension and oral narrative is to teach story elements.
There are five main elements in a story: setting, plot, characters, conflict and theme. Given strong visual supports, and active engagement with the story, young children are able to answer questions regarding setting, plot and characters. Characters include people or animals in the story. The setting is where the story takes place. The plot includes the sequential events in the story--what happened first, middle, and end.
Best practice suggests that story elements be discussed during the introduction of a story. When introducing these elements to preschool age students I teach these elements at the the end of a four-day set of lessons after they are familiar with the story elements they will need to know to map them out. I would like to share a simple format that I used in my storybook companion, “Llama Llama Misses Mama” by Anna Dewdney in my TPT store to teach these elements using a visually supported story map. Below is an excerpt from the lesson.
Show the children the book “Llama Llama Misses Mama”. Present the following information.
“What is the name of our book?”
“That is called the ‘title’. All books have a ‘title’.”
“Did we talk about who wrote the book? Let’s see if we can find the words on the cover of the book that tells us who wrote the book”. Point to the author’s name. “Here it is. The name of the person who wrote this book is Anna Dewdney. A person who writes a book is called an ‘author’. All books have an author. Let’s all say the author’s name together.” Have a child come up and point to the author’s name.
“All books have ‘characters’. ‘Characters are people or sometimes animals who are in the story. I am going to give you a ‘character’ circle to hold.” Give students a character circle. “When I name a character, if you have that character, hold it up in the air.” Do this for all the characters. Ask the student who is holding that character to label it.
“The characters in a book do things in different places. These places are called the ‘setting’. Some stories happen in just on place, and in other stories the characters go to more than one place. In ‘Llama Llama Misses Mama" are the characters in the same place on every page? I am going to give you a ‘setting’ circle to hold.” Give students a setting circle. “When I name a setting, if you have that setting, hold it up in the air.” Do this for all the settings. Ask the student who is holding that setting to label it.
“All books and stories have a beginning, a middle and an end. These are called the ‘events’ in the story. Sometimes there are a lot of events in the story, but we are going to name 3 for our story.” Show the picture of Llama Llama in his bedroom. “What is the first event in our story?” Discuss.
Show the picture of Llama Llama at school. “What is the middle event in our story?” Discuss.
Show the picture of Llama Llama and Mama at home. “What is last event in our story?” Discuss.
“We are going to use all of these circle pictures today to make a ‘story map’. Does anyone know what a map is?” Elicit answers. “Yes. A map is like a big picture that shows how to get somewhere and shows where things are. A ‘story map’ shows what is happening in a story. It has characters on it, the places in the story (the settings), and things that happen in the story (events--beginning, middle and end).”
Display the Story Map. Point to the ‘Characters’ part. “This part of the story map is called ‘Characters’. What picture circles do you think we will put here?”
Point to the ‘Setting/Places’ part. “This part of the story map is called ‘Setting/Places’. What picture circles do you think we will put here?”
Point to the ‘Events/Beginning, Middle, End’ part. “This part of the story map is called ‘Events’. What picture circles do you think we will put here?”
Use the story element circles to have the children create the story map.
“Making a story maps helps us to remember the story. It also helps us tell the story to others.” Use the ‘Events’ part of the Story Map. “We are going to use the ‘Events’ part of our Story Map to do this.” Point to the first picture. “What happened first in our story?”
“What did Llama Llama do after he got up but before he went to school? You are going to have to use your brains to help you remember, but we’ll also use our book.” Turn to the pages in the book, and have the children tell you what’s happening on each page.
Stop when you get to the page where Llama Llama is at school. “Now we are in the middle of our story. What picture on our Story Map shows the middle part of the story? ” “Let’s tell what happened in the middle of the story while Llama Llama was at school.” Turn to the pages in the book, and have the children tell you what’s happening on each page.
Stop when you get to the page where Llama Llama and his Mama are at home. “Now we are at the end of our book. What picture on our Story Map shows the end of the story?” Turn to the last page in the book, and have the children tell you what happened at the end of the story.
I use this strategy for several story books before I start having the children create their own story maps by either gluing pictures and/or story strips onto a map of their own. The students can also illustrate the characters, setting and events on a map. They should be able to use these story maps to start giving simple oral narratives of the story.